Review: Your Brothers’ Keepers

‘Your Brothers’ Keepers’ is a video that is available online. It is part of TVO’s international poverty series, Why Poverty?

Paikin interviews three anti-poverty activists: Laura Cattari, Arthur Gallant, and Vac Verikaitis. But first, we are advised to view the short (5 minutes) doc, How Can A Warm Man Understand A Cold Man?, about Vac’s fall to poverty.

Cattari speaks of the loss of identity leading to depression; a loss in a culture where the first question is, ‘What do you do?’ but you can no longer do what you did. And it’s a loss of community. She says you can recover, but it’s not something that happens overnight.

Gallant speaks of having limited or no choice; for example, without sick benefits he must go to work even when he’s feeling really crappy. Oh sure, he’s healthy now, but if he were to get sick, chronically sick….

Verikaitis relates having to survive, to put food in your belly. But that takes time away from dealing with other things, such as feelings of isolation and depression and anxiety.

Cattari says there are new metrics to determine poverty. In addition to one’s income and the security of your next meal, we now consider inclusion (dignity–such as your clothing; opportunity–such as post-secondary education; and a future).

Verikaitis says the despair of having no future, of utter hopelessness and just not seeing a way out, of ‘losing hope is a death sentence’, literally. But there are survival tools, such as humour.

Paikan asks Gallant his age. He is 22. Paikan says he automatically equates youth with hope; however, is that the case? Gallant personally has not seen a way out of poverty, has had no hope. But he does have a dream, has hopefully sixty years left on this planet, hopefully can make a difference.

Paikan then asks Cattari how she got out of hopelessness. Cattari says she was lucky. She had a really good therapist who referred her to a legal clinic. She realized there is assistance out there but you have to be persistent and you have to learn a whole new world of survival.

Paikan welcomes John Dalla Costa, founder of the Centre for Ethical Orientation, and Jordan Peterson, PhD in psychology, from the University of Toronto.

Peterson talks of the drain on time and energy and money it takes just to survive. This leads to things falling apart, to hopelessness and impulsivity, to addiction. In these situations, the way the brain calculates the ratio of present to future rewards changes. Technically, it’s called ‘future discounting’.

Paikan asks Dalla Costa about the aggregate social effect of these individual decisions. but first, Dalla Costa thanks Cattari, Gallant, and Verikaitis for their courageous stories.

Dalla Costa then explains that individual actions have a structure and so does society. For the last forty years our society has been heavily marketed, which demands consumerist behaviour and impoverishes the planet. We have this ‘amazing’ economy that also ‘produces staggering levels of inequality and that inequality is where’ personal poverty encounters social poverty. We put off solutions to poverty to tomorrow, as we do with climate change. In fact, we know that the impact of pollution, of carbon change, affect the poor the hardest.’The costs of climate change aren’t not there [yes, double negative]; they are just borne by the people who have the least flexibility.’

Peterson agrees: ‘This poverty trap … exists at the bottom socio-economic hierarchy’ where no matter the society, capitalist or communist, it’s a winner-take-all-and-loser-lose-everything distribution. He explains the basic dynamics, but adds that it’s not so simple. He also adds that, regardless whether your perspective is right-wing or left-wing, it’s not about having money, but having hope. Rich or poor, you can still lack hope.

Paikan relates stats of Canadian attitudes towards poverty from a Salvation Army report:

  • ‘43%–A good work ethic is all you need to escape poverty’
  • ‘41%–The poor would “take advantage” of any assistance given to them and “do nothing” ‘
  • ‘28%–The poor have lower moral values’
  • ‘23%–Poor people are in that position because they are lazy’

Gallant and Dalla Costa both said those attitudes are ‘baloney’. Dalla Costa said that 35 years of data reveal that more successful people are less ethical. Why? Because of the daily exercise of what is called ‘pro-self behaviour’–it’s about me, it’s about winning, etc–but without social concerns. So you have Popeye forearms and Olive Oyl legs.

Peterson adds that the report overly simplifies a complex problem, which Verikaitis later touches on.

Dalla Costa notes that systems have 40-50 year cycles. They calcify and have to be broken. With congregations, it’s a generational thing. That is why there are Jubilee Years in the Bible. We started going that way at the end of the 60s, but we made a conscious decision instead to resist, to maximize shareholder profits.

Verikaitis says that poverty has many guises; some are obvious, some are not. Artists can well-express its many guises by holding up a mirror to society and saying, ‘This is what I see.’

Cattari says that one result is discrimination, when people often fail to see the person inside the guise of poverty.

This powerful show and its well-spoken guests serve a generous and informative portrait of poverty in urban Canada. For a glimpse of poverty around the world, go to Why Poverty?

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